« The Sea Level Rise Mystery | Main | Scale-Based Antitrust »

Next Big Thing: Resilience

A few months ago, the editors at Foreign Policy magazine asked me to contribute to a section on the "Next Big Thing." My piece, on resilience, is now on the FP website -- and will appear in the May/June edition of the print magazine. [Link updated to local PDF copy.]

Again, it'll be familiar to regular readers -- I think we're still at the point where it's important to introduce new audiences to the concept.

How can we live within our means when those very means can change, swiftly and unexpectedly, beneath us? We need a new paradigm. As we look ahead, we need to strive for an environment, and a civilization, able to handle unexpected changes without threatening to collapse. Such a world would be more than simply sustainable; it would be regenerative and diverse, relying on the capacity not only to absorb shocks like the popped housing bubble or rising sea levels, but to evolve with them. In a word, it would be resilient.

I'm particularly happy to discover that the other contributors to this issue include Juan Enriquez (Next Big Thing: A New You), Martin van Creveld (Next Big Thing: Anger Management), and Alvin Toffler (Next Big Thing: A Bigger Big Bang?).

That will likely be the last general, intro-to-resilience piece I do. Time to focus on what it means.


"There are always limits to resilience."

Donella Meadows, _Thinking in Systems_

Would be good to keep that idea in mind.

Gmoke, absolutely. That's the essence of thresholds. Resilience itself is neither good nor bad, from any given context, but rather a system state descriptor.

I might disagree with how you define "sustainability" Jamais. Really I don't think the modern context of the word has any true meaning...certainly not in industry. That's partly why the first essential step is to reclaim the absolute definition of words:


So I'm not sure I'd agree that sustainability is a brittle state. Under your subjective definition, sure, but we live in a world where what's true for you is true for you, and what's true for me is true for me...ultimately does not exist. Nature is ultimate arbiter...apart from any linguistics argument about the relativism of words. I'm talking biogeological conditions, these are absolute...not perfect, but as shadows and forms on the wall in Plato's proverbial cave. They relate to stuff that has absolute meaning.

Hi Jamais,

I really enjoyed your article, as I'm studying sustainable design frameworks and the topic of resiliency also arose.

To complement my research and graphic design for my blog readers, I took your 8 principles and put them into an infographic, with attribution to you: http://bit.ly/19LZPs

Thanks for the inspiration!

Your work on resilience is great, but do you really need to set up "sustainability" as a straw man just to put forth the resiliency concept as useful? I don't know of anyone working on community sustainability that would define it in the rigid and limited way that you did. Instead, our conversations are very much infused with concepts of flexibility, decentralization, relocalization, collaboration, transparency, etc. The push towards sustainability already has many elements of resiliency and systems thinking being expressed by citizens working in their communities. No need to insult their work with false definitions.

I disagree with Gay, there is nothing wrong with bringing up the shortcomings of a word and world of sustainability and especially if its enabling to identify its limitations. The issue I have with the concept of resilience as described its that it's based on the word 'resiliency' which suggests more permanence and entrenchment than does sustainability, thus for me its even more static. The transformative action which you suggest as a result of adaptation is not adequately transmitted by the word resiliency. I would even go further to say that the word suggests more the view of how to maintain the status quo (existentially) while the world around us changes. Sustainability, although imperfect, incorporates the view that human intervention can be changed with an outlook towards the future.


I believe Gay was not criticizing Jamais for criticizing the shortcomings of the word sustainability, but rather because Gay (and I) believe that he's defining it incorrectly, i.e., the strawman argument.

Permanence need not be static or entrenched, necessarily. That might be an engineer's view, but certainly not the mindset of an ecologist.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb says "The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better."

However, I see this kind of resilience, based on the corresponding principles, as what Taleb is calling antifragile.

Resilience then emerges as the opposite of fragile.

Post a comment

All comments go through moderation, so if it doesn't show up immediately, I'm not available to click the "okiedoke" button. Comments telling me that global warming isn't real, that evolution isn't real, that I really need to follow [insert religion here], that the world is flat, or similar bits of inanity are more likely to be deleted than approved. Yes, it's unfair. Deal. It's my blog, I make the rules, and I really don't have time to hand-hold people unwilling to face reality.


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered By MovableType 4.37